- Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
- July 16, 1988
Following World War III, a secret military project turns a member of a biker gang into a raging superpowered psychopath that threatens the city of Neo Tokyo.
I think it goes without saying that Akira is a visually weird film. It was unlike any other animated film at that time and even stands out today. Such is the nature of a classic. There are visuals that even today are as unique now as they were then.
That is not to say it is all odd-looking stuff coming at your eyeballs. The environment is an immersive and authentic looking lived in world. It is not some polished or sanitized future world of 2019. Yep, this movie is now in the past like so many other future films. Anyway, the world we have is as detailed and realized as that of Blade Runner (another future film now in the past. I am OLD!)
Akira was a very influential film. It is credited with the growth in popularity of anime outside of Japan and laying the groundwork for the popularity of so much that was to follow. That goes to the high quality of not only the animation but the story as well. Events build slow and steady with the stakes growing greater.
One thing that jumped out at me from my very first viewing was the background designs. I am talking about the environment the characters inhabit. I grew up on 80s cartoons and so much of what I see them moving through and interacting with reminds me of the background visuals I would see in those cartoons. Take a look at the original GI Joe or Transformers or Spiral Zone or a dozen other science fiction tinged half hour toy commercials of the time. Considering the time I grew up in and the period in history in which this was made I can see a visual connecting thread between the shows I enjoyed and this film. Or perhaps in some cases the other way around.
However, as with so many great films, Akira visually took what came before and dumped it in a Shake ‘n Bake bag, mixed vigorously, and came up with something unique. We have a world that is equally familiar and unique for a viewer that watched enough stuff. The characters in them are not simple creatures either but rather complex individuals being forced to a great climax.
Akira is two hours long and the story itself works in that run time. It is not ponderous at all. In my opinion though in comparison to other Japanese anime it is also not nearly as dialog heavy. I’m not saying that there is not weighty dialog, but there is not tons of exposition. The narrative does not come to a screeching halt as a character or two talks and talks about some event or plot point.
An R-rated animated feature is an extreme rarity in western film. At least to the best of my knowledge. The only other R-rated animated movie I can think of off the top of my head is Sausage Party. If anybody else can think of some I’d be interested.
More importantly Akira is a serious R-rated feature and not some comedy. The reason I bring this up is because Japanese animation is not just for children or filled with general silliness. It can be for children, or it can be for adults. I would like to see western animation do more mature things. I am not saying abandon family-oriented stuff. I am just saying use the medium to do things that you may not necessarily be able to do in a live action film.
Akira is an animated classic. It is like a few other films and definitely a must see!